As Knox County's most competitive rivalry the last three seasons, there's little question as to what the top game in the area is this weekend as far as fans are concerned.
Lincoln visits South Knox for a 6 p.m. junior varsity start today, as the Spartans try to make it three wins in the last four meetings.
It's also a double weekend for South Knox, as the Spartans (5-6) visit Eastern Greene (7-6) at 6 p.m. Saturday. Rivet (3-6) and North Knox (7-8) are both home today. The Patriots entertain Northeast Dubois (4-8) for a 7 p.m. varsity-only Blue Chip Conference tilt, while the Warriors host Pike Central (1-9) for a 6 p.m. JV tip.
On Tuesday, the Spartans host Class A No. 2 Loogootee (9-3) for a 6 p.m. Blue Chip contest, and Rivet visits Dugger (1-4) at 6 p.m., varsity only.
Three years ago, the Spartans ended a lengthy drought against the Alices (1-8) with a 37-34 victory at Adams Coliseum, and they made it two in a row in 2019, taking a 56-52 home decision. Lincoln ended the two-game skid at Adams last year, 45-40.
The game may have a slightly different feel this year thanks to COVID-19 restrictions limiting the attendance. In recent meetings fans have arrived early from both sides, giving the end of the junior varsity games a sectional-like atmosphere.
Though the raucous crowd will be absent, the intensity of the county rivalry shouldn't be.
“This is a big deal for our players. Obviously as a coach, you try to view it as the next game, but for the players it's a big deal,” Lincoln coach Jordan Myers said. “They've grown up with these kids, they know them and have been around them since they started dribbling a ball. Bragging rights is important for the kids, so hopefully we can continue what we started last year and get another one.”
The Alices lost to 2A honorable mention Evansville Mater Dei, 62-53, on Tuesday. It was far from a perfect showing, but Myers was satisfied, given the team had just one practice to prepare after a two-week quarantine. One bright spot was the play of 5-11 junior Simon Corrona, who had a career-best 13 points.
“All things considered, we played OK,” Myers said. “There are things we have to fix, but we gave ourselves a baseline to build on. I was pleased to see the competitive nature of our kids, which has been there the whole year. Simon did some things we expected at the beginning of the year. Now he knows he can do it, he believes he belongs.”
The Alices start an all-senior lineup of 6-3 Ethan Bushey (17.1), 6-2 Julius Hardiman (6.9), 5-11 Payton Curry (6.9), 5-7 E Smith (5.2) and 5-10 Noah Bushey (4.0).
South Knox coach David Burkett admitted that the game isn't as big to him because he isn't from the area, but like Myers, acknowledged the importance to his players.
"This is a rivalry game, and we have to be ready. Vincennes played Mater Dei close coming off a two-week quarantine. They go hard to the offensive glass, and (Ethan) Bushey has been a pain in our side the past couple of years," Burkett said. "We have to make sure the rest of their guys on the perimeter don't get started."
“South Knox is solid. They run a good motion offense and have a couple kids who can really shoot,” Myers said. “Coach Burkett does a nice job, and he and I have similar personalities. I've not seen a second of his practices, but if I had to guess, he emphasizes defense the way we do. He gets his kids prepared, and they play hard. It's a game where both teams are going to try to take some stuff away.”
The Spartans start 5-10 senior Garrett Holscher (13.1), 6-1 junior Brennon Robinson (8.6), 6-2 senior Cody Dawson (6.0), 6-0 junior Tristian Wirth (5.5), and 6-1 sophomore Dylan Maeder (4.9). South Knox is trying to rebound after three consecutive narrow losses by a total of 14 points, the last two coming against highly-ranked Evansville Bosse and Bloomfield.
"The big thing is we have to make baskets. We're taking good shots, we just have to make them," Burkett said. "We got some young guys too where their roles are a lot different than last year. We have decent pieces. We just need our sophomores and juniors to perform on a consistent basis.”
Eastern Greene, a potential sectional opponent, is a good measuring-stick game for the Spartans (3-0 Blue Chip), while Loogootee (1-1 Blue Chip) might be the best of the three upcoming foes. Burkett was impressed with the Lions nearly erasing a 19-point deficit to Class A No. 1 Barr-Reeve last week.
"There is some truth coming off the Vincennes game where we've struggled playing (Eastern) in the past," Burkett said. "They're really good. They go 6-6, 6-6, 6-5 and 6-4. They're long, have guys who can hit shots and a good big kid inside.
“(Loogootee) scored like 65 against Barr-Reeve, so they have guys who can score and a good big inside with (6-6 senior) Silas (Bauer)," Burkett said. " (6-0 senior) Jordan Wildman is a good guard, (6-4 sophomore) Peyton Bledsoe can hit shots and (6-0 junior) Luke Nonte is a smart guard. They have good pieces."
The Patriots (1-3 Blue Chip) were playing well heading into last weekend, winning three of their previous four, but a 65-33 defeat to visiting North Central served as what coach Mark Bezy hoped is only a minor setback.
“We regressed. We didn't play as hard, and the effort wasn't 100 percent,” he said. “North Central is a good team, but we didn't play how we're used to. We were taking strides in the right direction, and that was a step back. We got the message across this week, and we look for a better effort.”
Bezy's usual starters are 6-3 senior Peyton Catt (13.2), 5-10 senior Charlie Niehaus (8.7), 5-10 senior Sam Hinkle (6.8), 5-7 freshman Isaac Kotter (4.0) and 6-2 senior Drake Dunn (3.1).
The Jeeps (2-2 Blue Chip) have won their last two after dropping five in a row. Among those losses are North Knox and South Knox, but prior to that slide, Dubois picked up a 38-37 win over Lincoln in the Forest Park tournament. While the Jeeps lack much size and a go-to scorer, they possess numerous interchangeable parts and all can shoot from outside.
Aside from being a conference foe, the Jeeps are also a potential sectional opponent.
“They're scrappy, they're disciplined, and they play well together as a team,” Bezy said. “They don't have any standouts, but they can cause problems, they get after it defensively, and they rebound well. Those are things we haven't always done well. But if we take care of the ball and rebound, we'll make it a fight. If not, it might be a long night.”
With a 13-day gap between today and Rivet's next scheduled game, the Patriots picked up a rematch with Dugger. Rivet beat the Bulldogs, 47-34, Jan. 9, but Bezy doesn't expect the same game.
“We played a good half there and got good shots against their man-to-man, but then we got lackadaisical in our offense, and when they went zone, it presented some troubles,” Bezy said. “They were also missing a starter, so this is a new game. We should have confidence going in, but it's going to be a bit harder. It's exciting for us as coaches, because we get to see if we can make the adjustments and if the kids can react. If they respond well, hopefully we'll get out of there with another win.”
North Knox is looking to put together consecutive wins for the first time in over a month, and Pike Central (1-9) seems to be a good candidate. The Warriors downed Shoals, 50-34, last Friday in what was one of the team's better performances of the year. Reece Hammelman, a 6-0 senior, had a strong showing against the Jug Rox with 20 points, but he brought more than just his scoring.
“I believe the Shoals game was our most complete of the season. They came in on a five-game winning streak and we were coming off a poor performance at Washington,” Warriors coach Daniel Crabtree said. “It was nice to pull away and have a somewhat comfortable win without letting them get back.
“There's a direct correlation to Reece's efficiency and us winning games. When he shoots a high percentage and fills up the stat sheet, we're a different team.”
Hammelman (8.8) starts with 6-0 junior Holtman Doades (14.7), 6-0 senior Isaiah Collins (6.6), 6-5 junior Ian Kixmiller (5.2), and 6-0 junior Rhett Sheren (4.5). The Chargers have two averaging just over nine points per game, 5-10 senior Sean Hanselman and 6-0 freshman Julian Gish.
“They're young. Two freshmen and a sophomore are three of their top four players,” Crabtree said. “They aren't big and like to spread teams out , attack the basket off the dribble and kick it to open shooters if help comes. They're better than their record, and they'll be hungry. We have to defend at a high level from the start. If we contest everything and force them into tough shots, we'll be in a great position to be successful.
“The schedule certainly changes now. For the most part, we're one game a week. Playing one game is easier for preparation and better for rest, but we're looking at only seven games in the next month-plus. It gives us a chance to focus on ourselves. We just hope to keep our edge during the final stretch heading into the sectional.”
SIAC boys standings
Evansville Mater Dei|2-1|8-3
Mater Dei 62, Lincoln 53
Jasper 59, Corydon Central 48
Bosse 88, Memorial 62
Reitz 56, Henderson County, Ky. 50
Lincoln at South Knox
Castle at Bloomington South
Bosse at Owensboro, Ky.
Central at Henderson Co., Ky.
Mater Dei at Reitz
Memorial at Harrison
North at Bloomington North
Forest Park at Jasper
Harrison at Jasper
New Albany at Reitz
Next Tuesday's games
Mater Dei at Castle
Jasper at Central
Princeton at Bosse
Blue Chip standings
Last Friday's results
North Knox 50, Shoals 34
Barr-Reeve 67, Loogootee 64
Paoli 50, Northeast Dubois 47
Last Saturday's results
North Central 65, Rivet 33
Bloomfield 36, South Knox 32
Barr-Reeve 39, North Daviess 38
Northeast Dubois 54, Washington Catholic 10
Shoals 44, Springs Valley 39
Northeast Dubois 48, Pike Central 44, OT
White River Valley 60, Washington Catholic 10
Northeast Dubois at Rivet
Pike Central at North Knox
Lincoln at South Knox
Shoals at Loogootee
Washington Catholic at Cannelton
South Knox at Eastern Greene
Barr-Reeve vs. Heritage Hills
Loogootee at Bloomfield
Northeast Dubois at Springs Valley
Wood Memorial at Shoals
Next Tuesday's games
Loogootee at South Knox
Mount Vernon at Wood Memorial